The Little Things Make You Strong
Be faithful in the little things because it is in them that your strength lies
This has been floating around in my head for the past three days, non stop. I’ve heard it when I started cooking dinner. I heard it when I cranked the car to go to Walgreens to fill some prescriptions. It’s been sitting there, in the recesses of my mind, simmering, waiting for me to examine it. It’s important that you know I did not want to go to Walgreens. In fact, I kiiiind of resented having to, just a little, because as grateful as I am for the two dozen medicines I take daily, I would prefer not to have to take them. It’s also important to note that I didn’t really want to cook lunch today either. I kind of wanted a break, wanted something easy, like McDonald’s. In fact, it’s important to note that, really, I haven’t wanted to do anything but lay in the bed with the covers over my head. Unfortunately, every time I started to take the shortcut, or the easy way out, this quote from Mother Teresa would inconveniently get louder in my head. I’d freeze, allow it to cross through my consciousness, and then sigh. Without digging too deep, I stuck to my original path and did everything the hard way. I didn’t just go get the medicines, I took them too. I was an elephant in the jungle for my girls. I cooked lunch. When my daughter asked if we could go outside for a “photo shoot” day (they get dressed up, take whatever toys they want, and we all go outside for me to take half a dozen pictures each of them: they love this.), I agreed even though just the thought of the energy it would take to do so gave my migraine something to yell about. We rode the Easy Riders, caught the ice cream man. I played. I smiled. And, when all was said and done, and they were settling down for the night, I read the Bible for a bit just like I always do. Then, writing. In other words, I did everything I was supposed to just like I was supposed to, just like I always have. Finally, the time came when there was nothing else to do. No stories, no cooking, no driving, no teaching, no playing, no bills to pay; the to-do list was empty. I sat down, grabbed Lambie, my pillow, and listened to the silence in my darkened living room.
And I felt no regrets.
Nothing extraordinary happened today. We didn’t even really do anything overly creative. But we used our imaginations. We enjoyed consistency. And we walked on through another day, giving it all we had. There’s nothing I can think of that happened that I would do differently, or that I wouldn’t have done at all. And even though it took conscious effort, I am glad that we did everything the “hard” way or the normal way. I’m glad we didn’t take any shortcuts. Too many times, I’ve thought of “strength” as something overt, something blatant, something “big.” In my mind, strength wasn’t just living, it was going above and beyond. Actually, though, the truth is, strength is developed slowly and over time. Every time you face something you didn’t think you could face and manage to smile or laugh afterward again, a little bit of strength is added to your reservoir. Every time you give a hundred percent even though you’d rather only give fifty percent, a little bit of strength is added. When you decide that you’re going to do something every day, like reading Scripture or actively playing with your children, and you stick to it, even though it’s hard and you don’t feel good, strength is added to your heart. Each of us has these little rituals, these traditions to our day-to-day life. We pray before every meal, whether we be in a restaurant or at home. Every time we do, a little bit of strength is added to us, both individually and as a family unit. Some (not me) drink coffee every morning. I would wager they do it not only because it helps wake them up and tastes good but also because the habit itself is comforting. When I was a pre-adolescent, my mother told us that if we smiled at people who were mean to us, then we were the better person. Furthermore, she said, most of the time, people will usually smile back at you—even if they don’t like you too good. I consciously decided to try that theory out. When it worked, I decided to make it a daily part of my life. I don’t care if it’s sunny, raining, snowing or hailing, I will smile at the person stopped beside me at the red light. I will smile at the check-out lady. And, if you’re not nice to me, I will go out of my way to smile at you too (unless you bother my children in any way; then the smiles are all gone). Sometimes this is hard to do. Sometimes emotion chokes me up and I find I don’t want to smile at the cashier in the grocery store: I just want to get my change and go. Sometimes, I’m in a hurry, and I just know the fifteen seconds it’s going to take to chat with you is going to make me late so I’d rather just bow my head and have us walk away from each other, neither the better for the encounter. But, when that happens, I try very hard to close my eyes for two seconds and remind myself that nothing is as important as how I make others feel. I try to open my eyes, spare a smile, even if it’s brief, no matter what.
Every day, we have Chatter Chat. Chatter Chat is the fifteen-ish minutes of the morning, and the evening, when the girls and I sit down together and talk. It doesn’t matter about what. I have a bunch of printed questions, and we take turns pulling a question out and then answering it. The questions usually lead to a brief discussion on feelings or the day or something. It makes us close. But sometimes, when school runs long, or we have ten appointments in one day, or everybody is pretty cranky, it seems to make sense to skip it. Until I remember that Chatter Chat is one of the small things we do that the girls will one day remember. It’s something small we do that, over time, makes us stronger as a family unit. Missing a day isn’t allowed, no matter how tired we are, or how long the day has been.
I also pray daily. It’s not always a deep or meaningful prayer. But I pray every day. There have been days, sometimes even weeks, where I had no idea what to say. I didn’t want to ask for anything, because I wasn’t sure He was listening anymore. I didn’t want to thank Him for anything, because I was hurting and I couldn’t see what I was supposed to thank Him for. I didn’t feel like throwing my feelings out to Him because He already knew what I was feeling, so what was the point? The point is that not praying eventually leaves you aching and separated from God. The point is that praying daily ultimately makes me feel like He’s here, even when I have no idea what He’s doing in my life. Throwing my feelings out there to Him is important: He may already know it, but telling Him anyway shows I want His presence and encourages me to depend on Him more. It may seem like something small, but praying every day gives me strength.
Teaching and playing with my girls is something that simply must be a part of my every day life. They remind me to laugh, they prod me into wonder, they force me to slow down. Sometimes I think I “should be” doing something other than playing Barbie dolls or making puppet shows. Maybe I should be scheduling another speaking engagement, or reaching out to make a grown-up friend. I’m very good at putting that off. While all of those things undoubtedly have a time and a place, my children will only be children for a little while, and my first priority is making sure that their childhoods act as a strong foundation for a healthy and happy adulthood. In order to achieve that, playing is critical. It’s how they learn to believe they matter in my life, and that they are loved. It’s also how they allow me access into their thoughts and feelings. No matter what else has to be done every day, nor how tired I might be, playing and engaging the creativity must be done.
So must writing. Writing is necessary for me. It is how I unwind, it is how I possess trauma and joy alike. My world is happiest when the day has involved some sort of focus on words and writing. Even when I’m tired, or just done, I need to write something, even if it’s only notes on a lesson plan or a letter.
It’s hard to do all of these things every day—it’s hard to smile and hard to find time to write too. But, each in their own way, these things give me peace and a greater joy than uninterrupted silence might. Subtly and over time, they mold my character and life. We aren’t who we say we are, we are what we do, we are what our habits are. Remaining true to those things that encourage optimism, a moral and spiritual well-being and the legacy I will one day leave my children takes perseverance and the ability to keep my eye on the long term; it requires a willingness to overlook the fleeting stages in emotion and focus on the ultimate goal: a life well lived, children turned into loving and happy adults. Strength isn’t really about what we overcome; it’s about how fervently (or not) we chase our dreams and how we live our day to day life. It doesn’t really matter what obstacles I’ve overcome if, in the end, my children aren’t compassionate and happy. It doesn’t really matter how much debris I’ve cleared out of my life if, in the end, God isn’t waiting to embrace me. Anyone can face a devastating crisis and still wake up the next morning. That’s biology. Strength isn’t a result of the crisis, it’s a result of the decision to remain faithful to all that makes my life normal.
At the end of what might have otherwise been considered a hard day, I find comfort and solace in the fact that our traditions and habits were upheld; we might not have gone anywhere fun but we didn’t neglect the things which truly matter either. We were gentle and kind to one another; love was practiced instead of only spoken. I take comfort in that. And I find that, even though it was hard to do it all, now, I see that it was a good day.
And I look forward to doing it all over again tomorrow.